Why Tuesday? Why Saturday? Why Sunday?

UPDATED: Our Representative, John Larson will be introducing a bill, “Weekend Voting Act” to move elections to the weekend. <read>

HARTFORD — With low voter participation across the nation at the polls this week, Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01), announced today that he supports an initiative to move elections from Tuesdays to the weekend to make it easier for all citizens to do their civic duty.

“As a representative democracy, voting is a fundamental responsibility for all Americans and the system should be as accessible as possible for as many as possible,” said Larson. “Unfortunately, the system we have now was designed to meet our country’s needs over 160 years ago and it no longer makes any sense. It’s time we stop making people choose between exercising their responsibility to vote, and meeting their everyday obligations.”

The current system, with national and local elections held on Tuesdays, was originally established in 1845 to accommodate the schedule of a largely agrarian society. Today, as an urban society, with many competing demands on everyone’s time, taking the time to go vote during a busy workday is a large impediment for many Americans. In fact, voter turnout has decreased in almost every presidential election since 1965.

The solution is simple, Larson says, “moving our elections to the weekend would make it much easier for everyone to get out and vote.” That is the goal of the ‘Why Tuesday’ Initiative, a non-partisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2005 to find solutions to increase voter participation.

‘Why Tuesday’ supports the Weekend Voting Act which will be introduced this Congress to move Congressional and presidential elections to weekends. “Bill Wachtel and the folks at Why Tuesday are right,” Larson noted. “Even one American voter disenfranchised because of an outdated scheduling policy is too many. I will be working to make this change in how we vote so that more Americans can participate without having to choose between work, or their families, and their desire to vote.”

Reading the details we find some voting integrity implications and we are skeptical of the benefits:

  • We question if weekend voting would actually increase turnout, decrease it, or be a wash. In Connecticut we have about half the turn-out in municipal elections as in Federal elections – clearly some of the voters are less motivated for municipal elections. Would elections on weekends motivate those same and other voters to interrupt their weekend activities or mini-vacations to vote? We see arguments for weekend voting but no rigorous argument at WhyTuesday. The overall effect seems difficult to predict.
  • Which days would we vote? Saturday and/or Sunday? I am a big supporter of separation of State and Church, but staffing elections might be challenging because many voters and potential election officials hold Saturday or Sunday as days reserved for their religion. Most might be willing to vote, but many might pass on working the polls or participating in get out the vote efforts – some might reasonably be expected to be offended by such efforts culminating on their day of worship.
  • On the other hand it might be possible to attract other individuals without strong religious or other weekend commitments to be poll workers. Once again, perhaps a wash as some people prefer taking a vacation day to work the polls rather than sacrificing “their time” on a weekend. Retired folks might prefer during the week and keep the weekend for visiting children and grandchildren. Once again, it might be difficult to predict.
  • With weekend voting we might find more volunteers on election day around town and around the polls holding signs encouraging everyone to vote. Especially if the election were Saturday, much of the flyering activities now largely accomplished on the weekend before the election would have to be accomplished during on the weekdays prior.
  • Would it have an effect on the demographics of who votes?  Once again, hard to tell. On the surface it would seem to favor those whose work makes it impossible to vote during polling hours – those that are not out of town all day (those out of town all day are eligible to vote by absentee ballot), or so busy working and driving children around that voting before or after work is just too much of a hassle. It should have little effect on the unemployed, or the many who work on weekends.

Looking at Representative Steve Israel’s site we find more details, not readily apparent at WhyTuesday:

The system needs to be upgraded to accommodate the needs of all American citizens. That’s why Rep. Israel introduced The Weekend Voting Act, H.R. 254 in the 111th Congress (2009-2010), which would move Election Day to the weekend. Rep. Israel is planning to reintroduce the legislation during the 112th (2011-2012) Congress. His bill would require polling places in the continental United States to be open on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. EST and close on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. EST during a presidential election.

Update:  Representative Israel’s description is inexact.  Here is the summary of the previous bill, our comments are updated accordingly:

Amends the Revised Statutes with respect to the time of election to establish the first Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November, in every even numbered year, as the days for the election, in each state and territory, of Delegates to, or Members of, Congress. Amends federal law with respect to presidential elections and vacancies to establish the first Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November, in every fourth year, as the days for the election of the President and Vice President of the United States. Amends such federal laws to establish the same polling place hours in the United States for both congressional and presidential elections, namely from 10:00 a.m. EST on Saturday till 6:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, with polls allowed to close between the hours of 10:00 p.m. local time on Saturday and 6:00 a.m. local time on Sunday as provided by the law of the state in which the polling place is located.

  • Looks like it would only apply to Federal elections, the ones that currently have the highest turnout.
  • One thing for sure, variation between Presidential, other Federal, Primaries and all other elections would increase voter and official confusion, with may changes required in other deadlines along the way.
  • We also note that while 10:00am to 6:00pm might be fine for many voters and would be hailed by election officials, those hours would make it much more difficult for retail employees required to work on Saturday and inconvenience those voters who would like to vote early and late avoid interrupting their normal Saturday or Sunday activities.
  • With Sunday undefined for hours, would States take into account religious services in setting polling hours? If they did, would that provide opportunities for constitutional challenges?
  • We do find that there are Integrity challenges, at least in Connecticut.  Currently we have only one day of voting, thus securing the ballots, machines, and the polling place would be a new challenge to integrity.
  • At least in Connecticut, it would likely almost double the election day costs for election personnel, building rental, campaigns, and volunteers.
  • Weekends would also present challenges and complains where elections are held in facilities that are currently used during the weekends for other activities.
  • One positive aspect would be an end to long pollworker days. Starting later and ending at earlier  would provide for more rested officials opening and closing the polls.

We do not find a compelling, complete case for this particular change. Our own suggestion would be to make election day a holiday, and even better change it to Wednesday, to get the election as far from the weekend as possible, reducing the temptation to use it as convenient four day extended vacation.

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